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Espanyol considers amortized what it paid (and did not explain) for the signing of Wu Lei

BarcelonaWaiting to resolve the formula chosen for his departure, Wu Lei is already history at Espanyol. If there is no script twist, the Chinese will return to China to help the club where he formed, Shanghai Port, to get back on the flight after a bad start to the season. The loss of prominence experienced in the last two seasons has been a determining factor in making the player understand that it is time to leave.

Three and a half years after incorporating him, Espanyol has written off a signing marked by secrecy. The ARA has had access to some of the confidential figures of that transfer, a rather complex negotiation that was only possible because of the contacts and influence that Chen Yansheng has in China and the resources provided by the Rastar Group. Bringing Wu Lei would have cost Espanyol around 10 million euros. The white-and-blue club does not deny this figure, although it also does not clarify the exact amount it ended up paying. On the other hand, from the entity they insist that the operation was closed between the two clubs (Espanyol and Shanghai Port), without Chen Yansheng, as an individual, nor Rastar Group, through the conglomerate business, make any additional financial contribution that does not go through the club’s accounts. In the financial report of the club for the 2018-19 financial year, however, there are only investments for 13.5 million in a year in which, apart from the Chinese striker, Borja Iglesias, Facundo Ferreyra and Alfa Semedo were signed.

For Chen Yansheng and Rastar Group, Wu Lei was not just any signing, but a strategic franchise player for their business interests in China. After his signing by Espanyol, the footballer began to star in a large volume of advertisements for toys and other Rastar Group products.

The player, a great advertisement for many companies in the Asian country – brought several sponsors to the club – kept all the economic rights to the image. It was a condition to make his transfer possible. The striker went from receiving nearly 10 million dollars at Shanghai Port to the almost 2 million he received at Espanyol.

Chen’s personal errand

A few months after certifying the purchase of Espanyol and becoming its president, Chen entrusted the white-and-blue sports management with the task of analyzing the football market to find some Chinese player who would strengthen the the club’s commercial ties with China. The sports area put a but to the Asian entrepreneur’s dream: any signing had to be justified by sporting criteria. The controversial precedent of Zhang Chengdong, a Chinese player who caused strong discussions between Rayo Vallecano’s coach, Paco Jémez, and the club’s management, had served as a warning for the white-and-blue club. Incorporating a player for the simple fact of being Chinese, understood the offices of the Ciutat Esportiva Dani Jarque, would not have benefited anyone.

Espanyol’s technical secretariat began to scour the world market in search of a player who fit the required commercial and sporting requirements. Within a few months, Espanyol already had the best players in the lower categories of Chinese football and the Super League under control, as well as many others spread across various leagues in Europe, Africa or Asia. The only player with enough level to play for Espanyol was a striker from Shanghai SIPG, Wu Lei. He communicated this to the board of directors. Considered the best Chinese player at the time, he had been capped more than 80 times, had been performing at a fairly high level for years and had hardly suffered any injuries. His profile could fit.

But the first efforts made by the sports area to incorporate him ended with an unexpected result: bringing Wu Lei “was impossible”, as he was the most highly rated player in China and a very valuable asset at the brand level for his home club. It was then that Chen, a well-known businessman with good relations in his country, decided to personally take the reins of the operation. A few months later, the president of Espanyol announced that the incorporation of Wu Lei was financially possible. “The agreement was made at the club, it was a very complicated contract that they managed between Chen Yansheng and Mao Ye Wu”, points out a former director of the entity.

The signing had a great media impact. Espanyol sold 5,000 shirts in the week after the deal was announced and became the second most watched La Liga team in the Asian giants. Even Real Madrid expressed their surprise at the signing. The general manager of the white team, José Ángel Sánchez, asked Espanyol how they had done it to close the incorporation of Wu Lei, since they had been looking for some Chinese talent for several years.

Third Chinese with more goals in Europe

Wu Lei will leave Espanyol as the third Chinese player to have scored more goals in a European club, 16, only surpassed by Jiayi Shao (29) and Chen Yang (26). “He had the level to be at Espanyol, but he suffered a knee injury that made him lose prominence and he made the mistake of renewing when the team was relegated to Second”, admits the Chinese journalist Daniel Yan, who assures that “no he knew how to adapt neither to the new category nor to Vicente Moreno, and he ended up being a player whom the fans did not understand”. Yan, however, predicts that Wu Lei will recover his best version in China and will again score “30 goals every year”.

The striker gradually lost prominence after a first season in which, with Rubi, he ended up being key when he scored the second goal of the triumph against Real Sociedad that certified qualification for the Europa League. Returning to a European competition 12 years later thwarted Espanyol being able to tour China that same summer. For the white-and-blue entity, which had already closed a friendly against PSG and had two more paired against Eintracht Frankfurt and Shanghai Port, it was an unbeatable opportunity to commercially exploit Wu Lei in the your country The Chinese tour, if it ends up happening in the future, will be without Wu Lei.

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